Book Review: The Dictator’s Muse

It is the early 1930s, and Europe is holding its breath.

~ The Dictator’s Muse, Nigel Farndale


Leni Riefenstahl is the pioneering, sexually-liberated star film-maker of the Third Reich. She has been chosen by Hitler to capture the Olympics but is about to find that even his closest friends have much to fear. Kim Newlands is the English athlete ‘sponsored’ by the Blackshirts and devoted to his mercurial, socialite girlfriend Connie. Driven by a desire to win an Olympic gold, he must pretend to be someone he is not. Alun Pryce is the Welsh communist sent to infiltrate the Blackshirts. When he befriends Kim and Connie, his belief that the end justifies the means will be tested to the core.

Through her camera lens and memoirs, Leni is able to manipulate the truth about what happens when their fates collide at the Olympics. But while some scenes from her life end up on the cutting room floor, this does not mean they are lost forever…


History was always my favourite subject at school; I’m a storyteller by trade, so what better stories than those that are true? Historical Fiction tends to mix fact and fiction, but I enjoy seeing a more colourful version of events, as well as imagined conversations and scenes.

The Dictator’s Muse appealed to me as it takes place in the tumultuous years before World War II when rumours are rife and the world is on the brink of war. Unfortunately it didn’t live up to its synopsis.

The subject itself is fascinating – the Berlin Olympics of 1936, the worries of fascism and communism across Europe and a new British King who seems sympathetic to Hitler.

Yet in making this a fictitious book, the author tried too hard to combine multiple historical events, characters and timelines. Throughout the book there was something lacking. Leni’s story was the most compelling, but we never got enough to feel satisfied. Kim featured more, but wasn’t so interesting; if anything, we learned too much about him. As for Connie and Alun, they were both unlikeable with appalling behaviour. This made the ending a huge disappointment.

I would actually have preferred a more in-depth account of the Olympics, Leni’s films and Jesse Owens. The inclusion of the unrest in the UK added nothing and made the book far too long. There was also unnecessary description throughout, which could be cut to make the pace more engaging.

Sigrun was a worthy addition and the story there provided a link to the modern world. The ending however, was quite farfetched and left us with many unanswered questions. There is much lost to time, but this was fiction, so the author could have given us more to round off the book nicely.

The Dictator’s Muse has inspired me to read more about Leni Riefenstahl, but the rest of the story was sadly underwhelming and the pace too slow.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I was given an ARC by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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